Everyone is encouraged to learn about sexually transmitted diseases/infections (STDs/STIs), one of the nation’s most persistent health problems, during the observance of National STD Awareness Month. Public awareness and knowledge are critically low around the country and STDs/STIs remain at epidemic levels. National STD Awareness Month is a national health observance sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to help break the silence and alert everyone to the growing crisis of STDs/STIs in America. The American Social Health Association (ASHA) provides estimates on the number of STDs/STIs occurring in the U.S.:
- Over one in two Americans will contract an STD/STI at some point in their lifetimes
- Nearly 20 million estimated new STDs/STIs occur each year in the U.S. per CDC
- One in two sexually active persons will contract an STD/STI by age 25
- One in four teens contract an STD/STI each year
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) or genital warts is the most common
- STD/STI in the U.S. and is the leading cause of cervical cancer
- An estimated one in five Americans (50 million) have genital herpes; and, about 776,000 new infections occur each year
- Each year, there are almost 3 million new cases of chlamydia
- Nearly $16 billion is the total estimated direct cost of STDs/STIs annually
The Bad News About STDs/STIs
Undiagnosed and untreated STDs/STIs can lead to lifelong health problems, even death. STDs/STIs are linked to or can cause:
- Genital (penile in males or cervical in women) or anal cancers in both men and women
- Increased risk of tubal pregnancies which can be fatal
- Infertility (unable to reproduce) in both men and women
- Liver problems and cancer
- Blindness, deafness, birth defects, early delivery or stillborns in infants during pregnancy or childbirth
- Increased risk of transmitting or getting HIV by 3 times compared to someone without an STD/STI
Many STDs/STIs have no symptoms or they are too minor to see. Many people are relying on symptoms to appear before they get concerned. The STDs/STIs can persist unless detected or treated, even though the symptoms may go away. The only way to know if an STD/STI is present is to get tested. There is no lifelong immunity once a person has had an STD/STI or gets treated. A person can get infected again and again through unprotected sex.
The Good News About STDs/STIs
STDs/STIs are largely preventable and most are curable or can be controlled to prevent complications. Here are some key points:
- The most reliable way to avoid an STD/STI is to abstain from sex or to be in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner.
- Latex condoms, when used consistently and correctly, are highly effective in preventing transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. In addition, correct and consistent condom use of latex condoms can reduce the risk of other STDs/STIs.
- There are vaccines available to prevent hepatitis A or hepatitis B infections. There is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C, which is spread through sexual contact.
- There are two new vaccines for young women and girls (Gardasil® and Cervarix®) that protect against infection by certain strains of the genital wart virus associated with cervical cancer.
When it comes to STIs we want to keep in mind the theme for this year, talk test and treat. Talk about the risks of STIs . And if you are sexually active don’t be afraid to get tested if you have any concerns. Especially after engaging in unprotected sex. And if you have contracted a STI you can get treated right away preventing any serious consequences.